Jan. 26, 2009— -- "Nightline" co-anchor Cynthia McFadden interviewed Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Jan. 26, 2009, in New York. The following are excerpts from the interview.
MCFADDEN: So, let me just give you an opportunity to answer this question, which I think is on the minds of a lot of people very directly. Are you a dirty politician?
BLAGOJEVICH: No, I'm a very honest politician and I see myself -- and you can laugh and call this delusional -- but when all the facts come out you, will see that I'm right. This is a modern-day Frank Capra story. You remember those old movies? Those black and white movies with Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper? The guy who was siding with the little guy, trying to fight for them, create more opportunities for them and protect them from big, powerful forces? Well, that's my story. It's a modern day version of it.
And what those people do, some of those establishment people do in those movies is try to make the good guy, whose got idealistic intentions, look like he's just what you suggested. And I view myself as Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper and I know that's gonna be met with mockery, but that's how I see it.
MCFADDEN: But your political career is over now, wouldn't you agree to that?
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, I think it's not very promising right now and to be put in a place in the not too distant future, where I'll be looking for another livelihood, but I'm not as important ...
MCFADDEN: No, but I mean all these big dreams. You talked about running for president in 2016. That's over isn't it?
BLAGOJEVICH: Let me say that, things are taken out of context and what I have to do now is focus on doing the best I can while I'm still the governor of Illinois. You know, I try to make the case to as many people as I can. But what the legislature is doing in Illinois is grossly unfair and setting a dangerous precedent -- removing governors elected by the people without allowing the governor to prove his innocence by bringing in witnesses.
MCFADDEN: You've also been called narcissistic, delusional, a sociopath. One state senator says that you're not playing with a full deck. Are you playing with a full deck?
BLAGOJEVICH: Hmm. Let me put it this way. Politics is a business where people call you names.
MCFADDEN: I just want to make sure. It is your position that these tapes are somehow doctored? That the transcripts are inaccurate?
BLAGOJEVICH: It's my position that when the full story comes out, and all of those conversations are put in proper context, it's going to show a governor who's working to try and get things done for people. Considering a lot of ideas and things from different advisors. You know, waking up one day and thinking Oprah Winfrey makes sense, another day waking up and thinking someone else makes sense.
Listening to advocates for other candidates and all the rest. But at the end of the day, when the full story is told, it will show what I was interested in doing was a selfless act for the people of Illinois.
MCFADDEN: With all due respect, Governor, given what you are quoted as having said on these tapes, that's laughable. Let me read you a line. "If they're not going to offer anything of value, I might just take it." Another quote: "Unless I get some real good expletive, I might just take it myself." "I've got this thing and it's *#$* golden. I'm not going to give it away for nothing." You tell me the context that that makes sense in, as a guy who's looking to do the work of the people of Illinois.
BLAGOJEVICH: Again, you have to judge someone by the full context --
MCFADDEN: You tell me what the context is --
BLAGOJEVICH: -- and again, by the actions.
MCFADDEN: But that's not the troubling part of the quote, with all due respect. The troubling part of the quote is unless you get something of value, you'll just put yourself in the job.
BLAGOJEVICH: You know, political discussion, again, political discussions are part of the business, and you can take things out of context. You know, it wasn't long ago that President-elect Obama and Hillary Clinton made a deal that he was going to raise $10 million if she got out of the race. That was well-publicized. I've heard commentators on the news talk about the situation here in New York, and if Caroline Kennedy was the senator, if she might raise money for Governor Paterson.Those are political discussions. And I'm not suggesting that's what happened in mine, I'm just saying you can take some of these things out of context --
MCFADDEN: -- But you are suggesting. You're suggesting this is politics as usual, and you just got caught.
BLAGOJEVICH: I'm saying when the full story comes out, you'll see I did nothing wrong. No criminal wrongdoing.
MCFADDEN: So, this kind of talk would be OK, as long as you didn't act on it, is that what you're saying?
BLAGOJEVICH: That's a question you should ask lawyers.
MCFADDEN: I'm asking you, you're a lawyer.
BLAGOJEVICH: I'm saying if you explore things, and are willing to think outside the box, and you test a variety of different things, and you will do only the right thing, once you sort it out, that there's a process, that's part of what it takes to be a leader. And when the whole story comes out, that's what those conversations will show.
MCFADDEN: So, the context, at least in part, that you're urging us to consider, and urging the state legislature to consider, and at some point, at least I assume, a criminal court to consider, is that you could have said things that, had you acted upon them, would have been criminal or at least unethical. But unacted upon, they're simply considering all political options.
BLAGOJEVICH: You're right, I am a lawyer, I went to law school.
MCFADDEN: So did I.
BLAGOJEVICH: I got a C in constitutional law, which might have been one of my better grades, so maybe I'm the wrong person to ask. But again, I can tell you, I've done nothing wrong. No criminal activity, and when this is all said and done, I will be fully vindicated.
MCFADDEN: Governor, finally I want to ask about your wife because, willingly or not, she has been made a part of this, as well. Your wife has been characterized as Lady Macbeth, urging you on, pushing you forward as a matter of fact. Fair assessment of her?
BLAGOJEVICH: No, it's disgusting. Again, I'm not impugning your profession but you guys are into the glitz and the showbiz and the quick verdict, and you take one little conversation of a loving wife who expresses some frustration because she loves and defends her husband, and then you twist it and characterize it in a certain way and it's among the many bad things that have happened to us. My wife is a loving mother, a loving wife, a caring wife, and a caring sister and daughter. All I can say is she and I signed up for this so we're not here to complain about it, but this is again what happens sometimes when things are sensationalized and taken out of context, and they have a life of their own.
MCFADDEN: Governor I have to read you the quote. "Hold up that #*% Cubs #*%@*. F- them." She doesn't sound like much of a lady, to say nothing of a first lady.
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, again, you're taking something that again, completely out of context, that's a snippet of a conversation that, again, isn't remotely the whole story. And trying to characterize her in a certain way. It's really regrettable.
MCFADDEN: She has lost her job.
BLAGOJEVICH: She has and uh, it's unfortunate.
MCFADDEN: And there are allegations that part of what was being sought were board positions for her.
BLAGOJEVICH: The whole story will come out. Again, it's a whole bunch of baloney.
MCFADDEN: Can you just deny it, Governor?
BLAGOJEVICH: I am, I am.
MCFADDEN: Is that true? Board positions were sought in exchange?
BLAGOJEVICH: In exchange? Total baloney. Complete baloney. That would be wrongdoing and there was no wrongdoing.
MCFADDEN: And how about you looking for a job post-this, a high paying job with a union?
BLAGOJEVICH: Again --
MCFADDEN: True or false?
BLAGOJEVICH: The answer is, when the full conversations are put into their proper context you'll understand and appreciate there was no criminal wrongdoing.
MCFADDEN: But was it wrong? Did you do something wrong?
BLAGOJEVICH: The answer is no ... if you do an exchange of one for the other, that's wrong. But if you have discussions about the future and down the road and what you might want to do once you're no longer governor in a few years, what's wrong with that? Those are natural discussions people have. And in the wake of an election where you're talking to political advisors and others, where you're trying to map out what your future might be. Those are legitimate honest discussions. And again, they're being twisted out of context.